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The Hemlock Society USA was a national right-to-die organization founded in Santa Monica, California by Derek Humphry in 1980. Its primary missions included providing information to dying persons and supporting legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide. In 1992, following the publication of his book Final Exit, Derek Humphry left the leadership of Hemlock Society USA. In 2003 the national organization renamed itself, and a year later merged with another group into a newly formed national organization called Compassion & Choices. A number of unaffiliated local organizations continue to operate under variants of the Hemlock Society name. A film of the same name has also been made.
In the USA (2009) three independent Hemlock Society groups are operating:
All are former chapters of the Hemlock Society USA which ceased to exist after a controversial name change to End Of Life Choices on June 13, 2003, and then shortly thereafter, a merger with Compassion in Dying and consolidating on the name Compassion and Choices.
The original Hemlock was founded in 1980 by Derek Humphry in his garage in Santa Monica, California, when he received a huge response to his memoir Jean's Way, his account of helping his reportedly terminally ill wife take her own life in 1975.
Hemlock's mission was to both: (a) provide information to dying persons who were currently considering hastening their ends; (b) to pass legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide with accompanying guidelines to prevent abuse. Hemlock was the first such organization in America; previous groups had campaigned only for the greater use of the Living Will. The name "Hemlock" was selected in the light of the suicide of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates who had to choose between sentences of death or unlawful escape into exile; after debate with his colleagues, and unable to bear the indignity of escape from the ruling law of his homeland, he, at the government's order, imbibed a drink laced with the hemlock plant. It was Socrates's careful consideration of his choices that inspired the American organization.
Hemlock was a founding charter member of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies when the international organization initiated in 1980 in Oxford, England, by Sidney D. Rosoff and Derek Humphry. Hemlock's national membership grew to 40,000 with eighty chapters. In 1988, Hemlock hosted in San Francisco the 7th biennial conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies.
In 1998, the Hemlock Society formed a side group called 'Caring Friends' which provided its members with support and guidance, nationwide, if they were terminally ill and asking for help to die. Its principal founders were Dr. Richard MacDonald, Hemlock's medical director, Faye Girsh, executive director, Wye Hale-Rowe and Lois Schafer, staff members. Strict guidelines were put in place to protect Caring Friends from legal problems, and it had none. (In 2005 'Caring Friends' was renamed 'Client Services' by Compassion and Choices). In 2000, Hemlock staged in Boston the 10th international conference of the World Federation of Right to Die Societies, which was attended by 483 people and had 66 speakers.
Hemlock backed legislative efforts in California, Washington, Michigan, and Maine without success until the Oregon Death with Dignity Act was passed in 1994. Hemlock infused (under IRS rules) a total of $992,210 on six campaigns.
In 1991, Humphry wrote the book Final Exit: The Practicalities of Self-Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying. At first, commercial publishers refused to publish Final Exit so Hemlock self-published it in hardback. Within months it made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It was one of the few self-published books ever to hit the bestseller list, earning Hemlock over one million dollars net. In 1992 Random House took over publishing the paperback. In 1992, Humphry left the leadership of Hemlock Society USA and later formed Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization ERGO Assisted suicide#Euthanasia Research & Guidance Organization (ERGO)ERGO.
On June 13, 2003, The Hemlock Society USA name was changed to End Of Life Choices. Soon after the name change, EOLC merged with (was taken over by) Compassion in Dying. The merge/take-over process was publicly announced on June 20, 2004, as an "intent to unify". The merged organization began operating officially in January 2005 under a new name, Compassion and Choices.
Another Hemlock offshoot is The Gladd Group, founded in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa, California by Sharlotte Hydorn (born 1919 or 1920), who met Humphry after the death of her husband, and joined the Hemlock Society.[when?] In May 2011, the FBI raided Mrs. Hydorn's home and shut GLADD down. She was making and selling helium hood kits worldwide. Subsequently, no criminal charges were filed and Mrs. Hydorn agreed to stop manufacture and plead guilty to failing to make income tax returns.
After Hemlock ceased to exist in 2004, some members of Hemlock's leadership formed the Final Exit Network to continue its mission. Hemlock chapters in Florida, Illinois and the San Diego, California area continue their mission of helping people understand what is involved in accelerating one's end, and pushing for legislation. These chapters cooperate with – but are not an official part of – the national Final Exit Network which provides informational guidance.
Hemlock Society USA Presidents:
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